Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Unified board OKs $20 million in potential borrowing"

From The Journal

AARON KNAPP aaron.knapp@journaltimes.com9

Credit - Racine County Eye

"RACINE — With potential future building purchases and renovations in mind, the Racine Unified School Board recently approved the district borrowing up to $20 million in general obligation bonds.

"The resolution, approved by the board in a 6-3 vote on March 22, doesn’t approve any spending per se, nor does it allow the district to take out any money without further board action, but it will allow the district to move more quickly in buying property in the future, such as the Sturtevant Sportsplex, explained Unified Chief Operations Officer Dave Hazen.

"Despite skepticism from several board members, Hazen repeatedly and indignantly insisted to doubters that the board would have to approve every project paid for with this borrowing authority.

"'This is not borrowing money,' Hazen said emphatically in an interview after the meeting, speaking of the board’s action Monday night. 'This is only getting the ability, the legal ability … it’s getting the authority, so if future projects have merit and the board chooses that they have merit, then there’s a method to pay for them.'

"He likened the resolution to getting pre-approval to take out a loan from the bank.


Potential uses

"Hazen said the district has no set plan for the bonds, but said the money could be used for a number of tentative projects, including the purchase of the Sturtevant Sportsplex, 10116 Stellar Ave., which the district has a tentative agreement to buy for $5.2 million, pending board approval.

"Other potential uses for the borrowing authority could be an upcoming $7 million overhaul of the Jerstad-Agerholm schools’ heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, a new pool at Case High School and renovations to the Sturtevant Sportsplex if the board approves buying it.

"Funds used to repay the debt will depend on the type of project, but Hazen said property purchases or 2014 referendum-related projects would not increase taxes. He reiterated that referendum funds would not be used to pay off debt on the potential purchase of the Sportsplex.

"However, the board has ability to raise the tax levy to pay for projects done as energy savings performance contracts, such as the Jerstad-Agerholm project, Hazen said.

"The borrowing authority would expire after five years, Hazen said.


Board Reservations

"Several board members voiced misgivings about approving the debt without a concrete plan of what the money would be used for, especially with the knowledge that this funding might be used to purchase the Sportsplex.

"'I’m kind of disappointed that that we’re going to be asking the public for the ability to borrow $20 million and not be able to supply any specifics as to how, where and when this money is going to be used,” said board member Dennis Wiser, later adding that he’d like a plan for how the money would be used if specific projects, like the Sportsplex, don’t come together.

"Board members Don Nielsen and Mike Frontier expressed similar concerns and joined Wiser in voting against the resolution on March 22.

"Hazen repeatedly noted that the district would bring more specific plans of how to use the money before each proposed use of the borrowing authority — and the board would have to approve both the project and financing the project through the bonds.

"Without the bonding authority, Hazen said, the district likely wouldn’t be able to quickly collect the money necessary for property purchases.

"The board will hold a public hearing on the resolution at 5:30 p.m. April 4 at the district’s administrative campus, 3109 Mount Pleasant St."

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Uh-oh!  Here we go again.

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